You’re kneeling in wet grass next to a clean out, shoving your Gen-Eye pipe inspection system slowly down into the drain. The push rod is stiff but slippery; just flexible enough to permit you to negotiate the 90-degree turn at the bottom of the clean out and then coax it in the direction of the street. The yard seems to be approximately the size of Rhode Island, with a driveway, several trees and an overgrown, but earnest, attempt at landscaping between you and the property line. The customer’s toilets and drains have been backing up almost every time that it rains, and you’ve confirmed that everything between the house and the clean out is flowing normally. Your problem lies under the front yard, and it certainly involves a broken or leaking pipe.
It occurs to you that you are propelling a video camera into what is certainly a damaged sewer pipe. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, it turns out. Although this imaginary scenario seems relatively safe and controlled compared to some camera applications that I’ve heard about over the years, contractors damage their inspection systems in situations like this every day. It’s easy to do and expensive to correct, so let’s take a look at the two most usual suspects and see what we can learn.
1. Kinking the push rod as you thrust it into the pipe.
According to camera repair centers, most kinks occur in the first few feet of the push rod. This seems to happen when the contractor, or the contractor’s assistant, shoves the push rod into the pipe with a tad too much enthusiasm. It can also happen when the operator decides to stand instead of kneel or crouch next to the drain opening. If you give it too much room to roam, the push rod tends to bow out and kink right before your eyes.
Embarrassing and expensive. Depending on the brand and the severity of the problem, a re-termination on a standard push rod in the U.S. can cost anywhere from $200 to $600.
Advice: keep your hands low, as close to the drain as possible, and slow down. Use short, fast motions to get around a bend and watch where you’re going. Pay attention!
2. Damaging the camera head.
The camera head is the most important and expensive part of the pipe inspection system, and usually the most vulnerable. Most of the damaged camera heads that arrive at repair centers have a cracked lens cover or light ring, presumably the result of being used as incredibly expensive battering rams. The video camera in your pipe inspection system is very similar to the one that you used to record your cousin Edna’s wedding. It’s probably been sealed in a stainless steel protective case behind a sapphire lens cap cover, but the guts are the same. The LED lights are hidden behind bulletproof Plexiglas and the whole thing is either pipe threaded or epoxied to the end of the push rod so it’s sealed up like an Egyptian tomb. Sounds impressive, but all of that is no defense for an overly enthusiastic drain cleaner.
Advice: Don’t use your pipe inspection system as a drain cleaner! You have other tools in your truck that are much better suited for that task, and much less expensive to repair. Keep your eyes on the monitor! If the camera head is approaching a break in the pipe, a foreign object or is underwater, do yourself a favor and stop. Be careful. Pay attention!
Are there other calamities that can befall your camera system besides these two? Absolutely. From kinking the push rod a hundred feet down the line to accidentally cutting off the camera head when sawing through the pipe, there are dozens of problems that can pop up in the life of a camera system. However, addressing the above will greatly decrease the odds of having a camera-related mishap ruin your day.
Over the years we’ve noticed that some contractors never break their camera systems, and others seem particularly hard on them. Most drain cleaners and plumbers fall in the middle range, experiencing occasional problems. The important take away here is that repair centers see a clear relationship between technique and frequency of repairs. Live and learn!
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